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Former Japanese Prime Minister assassinated: will the killer face the death penalty?

Last year Japan’s leader approved the death by hanging of three death row convicts, signalling the return of capital punishment in the nation.

Former Japanese PM's assassin could face the death penalty

Japan’s longest-serving leader, former Prime Minster Shinzo Abe, was killed on Friday morning while giving a campaign speech in the Western city of Nara.

The 67-year-old was shot from behind while campaigning for a parliamentary election and the assassin, identified as Tetsuya Yamagami, was quickly taken into custody. The attack has shocked a country where gun violence is extremely rare and the punishment for murder can be grave.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke in the hours after the shooting, saying: “This attack is an act of brutality that happened during the elections - the very foundation of our democracy - and is absolutely unforgivable.”

Will the assassin face death by hanging?

Police confirmed that a 41-year-old man was arrested immediately after the attack. NHK, Japan’s main public news source, quoted the suspect as saying that he had carried out the killing because he was dissatisfied with the former leader.

His actions will be met with the full force of the law which, in Japan, will likely mean a death sentence.

More than 70% of countries have abolished capital punishment but in Japan the practice has had something of a resurgence in the past year. There were no executions carried out in 2020 or most of 2021 but in December of last year Kishida, who had recently taken office, approved the hanging of three death row inmates.

Current sentencing guidelines allow the death penalty to be used for multiple murders, or even for single homicide cases where the attack is deemed particularly heinous. Recently, Justice Minister Furukawa Yoshihisa said that he supported the use of capital punishment for “atrocious crimes.”

It seems likely, given the shocking nature of the crime, that the perpetrator will be sentenced to death by hanging.

Rare episode of gun violence in Japan

Japan has one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the world and its laws make the ownership of firearms almost impossible through legal routes. That stems from a 1958 law ban on possession of weapons, which states: “No one shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords.”

Aside from a few exceptions for hunting and sport, which come with stringent educational and examination requirements, civilian ownership of guns is banned.

For this reason the death of such a prominent figure in Japanese society has shocked the nation and prompted searching questions about the nature of the weapon used. Pictures from the scene appear to show a homemade weapon that seems to mimic a shotgun.

BBC’s Japan correspondent, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, explains that the perpetrator “may have built it himself. Photographs taken as the suspect was being apprehended show what looks like an improvised, or homemade, double-barrelled shotgun.”


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